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American Opinion Split on US Position on Israel-Lebanon Conflict

Diplomatic efforts are intensifying as Israeli warplanes continue to pound southern Lebanon. The U.S. says it is working closely with European leaders and the U.N. Security Council to put an end to the fighting but insists an immediate ceasefire will not guarantee a lasting peace. Meanwhile, Americans public opinion appears split on how to end the nearly 4-week-old conflict.

The fighting between Hezbollah and Israel continues unabated across Lebanon's southern border.

But finding a way to end the conflict, which has killed more than 900 people in Lebanon and at least 68 in Israel has divided many in the international community. Some European and Arab countries have demanded an immediate ceasefire. Although the Bush administration agrees the fighting should end, it says any agreement on a ceasefire must include long-term solutions.

At the National Mall in Washington DC, a random sampling of opinions suggests widely differing views.

"Anytime there is war that is bad and anytime we can negotiate peace, that is always better. So yes, a ceasefire would be a wonderful thing," said one woman.

"Right now, I believe we should let Israel take care of the Hezbollah threat to Israeli citizens,” said another person. “Once they get that taken care of, there should be a ceasefire between both parties, But not until then. Not until then, not until Israel has taken care of the threat against their country."

But a phone survey commissioned by the largest Islamic civil liberties group in the U.S. claims the majority of Americans want an end to the fighting. The Council on American-Islamic Relations says nearly 54 percent believe the U.S. should call for an immediate ceasefire. Parvez Ahmed is the council's chairman.

"The American public opinion is behind the ceasefire, there ought to be an immediate ceasefire at this point in time, to not only allow for humanitarian aid to reach people in that troubled region but also to work towards the just resolution of this 50-year conflict."

A similar survey by CNN shows only 44 percent of Americans believe Israel should agree to an immediate ceasefire.

Mohammed Nimer, the Council's research director hopes the surveys will encourage more discussion. "There is great room for debate on the overall US policy in the Middle East and that is what the American public opinion polled by an independent research firm told us."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the U.N. Security Council is close to reaching agreement on the terms of a permanent ceasefire but she says long-term peace in the region will require help from an international peacekeeping force to disarm Hezbollah militants.